Greek filmmaker Yorgos Lanthimos has often been compared to Stanley Kubrick, so it’s easy to say that The Favourite is his Barry Lyndon. But it’s also accurate. Just as that 1975 film was both a commentary on human nature and a blatant parody of European costume dramas, The Favourite visits the early 18th-century court of England’s Queen Anne to spoof the genre (these have to be the wiggiest wigs ever) and employ dark humor/casual cruelty to expose the hearts of men.
Or, in this case, women. Written by Deborah Davis and Tony McNamara, the film centers on the political and personal dynamic among three conniving figures: Queen Anne herself (Olivia Colman), her close friend and advisor Lady Sarah (Rachel Weisz), and a new maid with a complicated past (Emma Stone). The Favourite looks the part, with sumptuous costume design and vast spaces lined with tapestry-clad walls, but Lanthimos adds a few idiosyncratic flourishes (an occasional fisheye lens, sweeping pans that take in the enormity of these chambers). We also get another signature Lanthimos dance sequence, which is decidedly and refreshingly not of the period.
As for the actors, Weisz gets to showcase her skill for subterfuge, while Stone reveals new levels of manipulation and deceit. But it’s the lesser-known Colman, as Queen Anne, who ultimately wrests control of the film. At once the ultimate manipulator and the most easily manipulated, the sickly Anne is something of a King Lear figure, and Colman gives her the weary ferocity of a dying animal. She’s somehow the most monstrous presence and the most sympathetic, which in a Lanthimos movie (or a Kubrick one, for that matter) is a rare feat indeed.